San Francisco Restaurants
838 Divisadero, Nopa
Sure, it might not feel like SF needs yet another Italian restaurant. The truth is, Che Fico (pronounced "kay-feeco") is anything but. It also happens to be one of the hardest tables in the city to land right now. GP went earlier this spring when it first opened, and it continues to live up to the hype, down to its Instagram-friendly design details—a chevron tile lined entryway, a fire engine red pizza oven, and a boldly wallpapered stairway. Chef David Nayfeld and fellow Eleven Madison Park alum and pastry chef Angela Pinkerton have assembled a menu that's at once familiar but also masterful, meaning it's all really good and leans heavily on local California produce. Pastas (orchiette with fennel sausage and broccoli rabe; goats milk ricotta gnudi with ramps) are handmade, and the pizzas are oven charred and finished with parmigiano regiano. Everything is meant to be shared, and dishes pour out of the kitchen as they're ready, so you should just go for it and order everything that strikes your fancy. For dessert, it's a toss-up between the olive oil cake with elderflower ice cream and the bittersweet…
28 Waverly Pl., Chinatown
If you're looking for world class Chinese food in the heart of San Francisco's Chinatown, Mr. Jiu's is it. Chef Brandon Jew takes a modern approach to traditional Chinese food, putting his own twist on classic dishes such as pork buns and black sesame cake, already earning him a Michelin star in his first year. The wood paneled floors give the space Old World charm, but the views over the financial district let you know that you're at the heart of the city. They also have a wonderful bar with drinks such as “Harmony” and "Clarity", again blending Western spirits with traditional Chinese flavors like green tea, ginger, and lime.
149 Fell St., Hayes Valley
Mexico City native Gabriela Camara has gained trailblazing status for her California-meets-Mexico fare (think: prawns in chile guajillo broth and crab tostadas with napa cabbage and habanero). Always bustling for dinner, the Hayes Valley hotspot is also a mainstay for lunch (its adjacent standing room taqueria is open daily from 11am-2pm). While the food is reason enough to come, it's worth noting the interiors—industrial and light-filled—are beautiful.
2030 Union St., Cow Hollow
A lively Mexican resto, this Cow Hollow spot is the perfect place for after work drinks and group dinners. The menu is an authentic as is comes, with recipes passed down from the founders' families–and fresh-made masa corn tortillas accompanying most dishes. Don't miss the fried plantains with spicy crema–with a de Flores margarita on the side, of course.
1002 16th St., Potrero
We love a good milk tea but often loathe all the sweetness that comes with–which is why we're fans of Boba Guy's genius menu option that allow you to customize your sweetness level (75 percent is ideal for an occasional treat, 25 percent if we're opting for several a week) and milk type (organic whole, almond, or soy). With several locations throughout SF (and three in NYC),
609 Hayes St., Hayes Valley
Paying homage to her ancestral roots, Dominique Crenn's second (and slightly less experimental) restaurant emphasizes fresh seafood dishes—mussels and clams with garlic and saffron—and a great selection of French wines. The bright, cozy space is white, crisp, and just a touch nautical, with lights dangling from raw rope built-in bench seating decorated with light pillows. Unless you want to eat at the first come first serve bar, try to make a reservation well in advance. The menu is prix fixe—but it's totally worth it.
199 Gough St., Hayes Valley
This is the kind of place you bring a friend from out of town to, because it shows off the best of what SF's food scene has to offer. The restaurant is owned by Evan and Sarah Rich, a married couple who met when they were working in the kitchen at Bouley. Though both Evan and Sarah come from fine dining backgrounds, the vibe at Rich Table is much more relaxed, which results in ambitious dishes and exotic ingredients presented in a refreshingly unfussy way. The move, if you can, is the chef's picks. Photos: Kassie Borreson
451 Gough St., Hayes Valley
This is one of those restaurants you can always count on to be great, no matter when you come, or what the occasion—and the subtly French menu is that magical length that gives you options without being overwhelming. While the wine list is thorough and creative, it's the cocktails that really shine—try a refreshing Daybreak (a combination of genepy, elderflower, tonic, and lemon), or their subtle absinthe drink, which is served with gin, mint, and Lillet. The space, which you'll know from the neon cat that hangs out front, is around the corner from the symphony and the War Memorial Opera House, so it's the perfect spot for a date before a performance.
20th Century Café
198 Gough St., Hayes Valley
This café came to us by recommendation from Kim Alter, who calls it one of the neighborhood's hidden gems. Inspired to open up shop after visiting cafés in Prague, Vienna, and Budapest, owner and chef Michelle Polzine is known for knishes; linzer tortes; a drool-worthy, 10-layer Russian honey cake; and for her eclectic collection of vintage dresses and aprons. As Alter told us, "She's just the whole package."
Good Mong Kok Bakery
1039 Stockton St., Chinatown
"If you are on the go in SF and don’t have time for a sit-down meal, be sure to head over to this bakery and pick up some takeout. This is where Chinatown’s denizens shop for everything from breakfast to afternoon tea. Arrive early, since things sell out fast, and then power down into full Zen mode while hanging around in that long line. The counter ladies can be cranky and rarely speak English, but then again you just need to hustle your way to the counter, place your order, plunk down your cash, and leave. Snag some baked char siu buns, whatever steamed dumplings grab your fancy, and a couple of flaky pastries." —Carolyn Phillips
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